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Aggies fall in CUSA Quarterfinals

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama (KVIA) -- Competing in their first CUSA Tournament since joining the conference on July 1, 2023, NM State (13-19, 7-9 CUSA) opened with a game against Western Kentucky (20-11, 8-8 CUSA) Thursday night in the CUSA Tournament quarterfinals. Trailing for all but 53 seconds, the Aggies would fall to the Hilltoppers 89-69. 

Christian Cook reached the 20-point mark for the fourth time as a member of the Crimson & White, with Tanahj Pettway posting 16 points and tying his career high with eight rebounds. Kaosi Ezeagu finished his Aggie career with 12 points and nine rebounds. As a team, the Aggies shot 45.2% from the field with a 43.8% mark from the free-throw line. Holding a slight edge in offensive rebounds (10-9) and second-chance points (11-10), the Aggies trailed in bench points (51-27) and fast break points (13-2).

First Half

  • The Aggies faced a deficit early, with the Hilltoppers knocking down a pair of 3-pointers before a Jaden Harris layup gave NM State their first points of the contest at the 16:58 mark. Harris would finish the first half with four points. Since earning and keeping the starting role on Jan. 20., the junior from South Plains, Ga., has averaged 8.7 points per contest. 
  • Tanahj Pettway entered the contest and made an instant impact, knocking down a 3-pointer from the left side of the court, bringing the Crimson & White within one, 10-9. The guard from Worcester, Mass., closed the first half with eight points and five rebounds. The five rebounds pulled down represented a season-high. 
  • Trailing by five with 11:38 left in the first half (18-13), Pettway would kickstart a 7-0 NM State run, scoring five straight points before a layup by Femi Odukale gave the Aggies their first lead of the contest, 20-18 with 9:47 remaining. 
  • The Hilltoppers would not stay down long however, spearheaded by a trio of 3-point buckets to reclaim the lead, and take their largest of the contest (30-20), with 5:01 left to go in the opening stanza. 
  • Christian Cook sank the Aggies' second 3-pointer of the contest for his second basket, ending a 12-0 scoring run by Western Kentucky. Cook would close the first half with seven points while shooting 3-for-10 from the field and 1-for-6 from long range. 
  • Down the stretch of half number one, Western Kentucky outscored NM State 21-9, heading into the locker room with a 40-29 lead. At the break, Western Kentucky held an advantage in free throws made (12-1), 3-pointers made (6-2) and forced turnovers (7-3). 

Second Half

  • Going a combined 5-for-14 from the field in the first half, Femi Odukale and Christian Cook put in the first two baskets for the Crimson & White. Trailing 45-34, a Jordan Rawls triple began a 6-0 NM State burst, shrinking the Hilltopper lead to five points for the first time since the seven-minute mark in the opening half. This would ultimately be the closest the game would get in the final 20 minutes.
  • The Aggies caught fire throughout the first eight minutes of action, matching their first half total in 3-pointers made (2) while shooting 53% from the field. Going just 1-for-5 with two points in the first 20 minutes, Kaosi Ezeagu turned up the intensity in the second half, posting six points and a vicious block to keep the contest within reach, 57-50 with 11:35 left. 
  • The teams would continue to trade buckets, with the Hilltopper lead staying between nine and 12 points through the ensuing four minutes of action until Babacar Faye produced his first points of the night to give Western Kentucky a 70-56 lead with 7:43 left to play. 
  • A 3-pointer with 4:29 left to go gave Christian Cook his fourth 20-point game as a member of the Crimson & White, and second in a row following a 26-point performance in last Saturday's Senior Day win over FIU, but the Aggies would ultimately fall by a score of 89-69.

Numbers of Note

  • Christian Cook led the way for NM State, posting 20 points on 8-for-17 shooting. This is the seventh straight game in double-digits for the junior from Oklahoma City, Okla., and 17th double-digit scoring effort of the season.
  • Kaosi Ezeagu closed his time with NM State posting 12 points and nine rebounds in 30 minutes of action, his 14th game with ten or more points. The big man from Brampton, Ontario, Canada also tied his career high with three blocks. his also marks the end of a stellar five-year collegiate career which included stops at four different schools. In total, Ezeagu finishes his career with 767 points and 556 rebounds, including single season career highs in both points (282) and rebounds (203) with the Aggies in 2024.
  • Tanahj Pettway pulled down eight rebounds, tying his career high while adding 16 points – his second-highest-scoring performance of the season and fourth game of the year with at least 10 points.
  • Jordan Rawls ended the night with 11 points, giving him his eighth double-digit scoring performance since the start of conference play. Pulling down five rebounds, Rawls tied his season high, recording five in a home win over Liberty on Feb. 1. Thursday's game also represents Rawls' final collegiate contest as he rounds out a career which included 1,007 totals points and 110 assists.
  • Shooting 45.2% overall, the Aggies posted their seventh-best shooting performance from the field. However, their 7-for-16 (43.8%) night from the free-throw line represented the Aggies' worst performance of the season. 
  • NM State gave up their fourth-most points of the season, allowing the Hilltoppers to produce 89 points. This includes 23 points from the free-throw line, the tenth time this season the Aggies have allowed 20 or more points from the charity stripe.
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Bea Martinez

NMSU Athletics


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